Cynthia Burgess spends the majority of her free time playing percussion instruments to continuously improve her skill level. But the Westminster High School junior is still very superstitious about her musical accomplishments.
"At every audition I've been successful, I've been wearing those shoes," she said of her old, ratty-looking Converse sneakers. "I truly believe that is why."
Burgess has been selected by Music for All from numerous applicants from across the nation to perform in the 2012 Honor Orchestra of America. She will play in a concert Friday and Saturday at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis.
Orchestra members were selected by recorded auditions that were evaluated by leading music educators. Music for All's mission is to create, provide and expand positively life-changing experiences through music, according to its website. There are also Honor Band and Jazz Band of America Ensembles.
Cynthia is one of 46 students from 18 states that will share the stage with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, a 52-week professional orchestra. She took a plane to Indiana Tuesday and practice starts today.
The high schooler is a member of the Westminster High School wind ensemble, orchestra and jazz band as well as a member of the Peabody Youth Orchestra and the principle percussionist of the Maryland Senior All-State Band and Carroll All-County High School Band.
Though Cynthia plays all percussion instruments, she will be playing the snare drum and crash cymbals for the professional orchestra as they perform Shostakovich's fifth symphony.
"The best thing in the world is playing with a good orchestra," she said.
Despite her previous accomplishments, Cynthia was surprised to learn in December that she was selected to perform in Honor Orchestra of America.
"As a musician, you rarely recognize being good," she said. "You only recognize the mistakes you make."
Her mother, Angelina Burgess, of Westminster, said it is quite a task to keep track of her daughter's schedule and make sure the most important things get the priority they deserve.
"She works really hard and is achieving her goals on a regular basis," Angelina said.
Cynthia has learned that a large part of the music industry is criticism and uncertainty, which she has learned to take well, she said.
"You can't get upset about that, you have to make the adjustments," Angelina said.
Cynthia has been playing instruments since she was five, first starting with violin and then moving on to piano. But she became enthralled with percussion instruments her sophomore year when she heard a girl at Peabody play Keiko Abe's "Dream of the Cherry Blossoms."
"I just started getting kind of obsessed," Cynthia said. "I spent all my time listening to marimba pieces and classical music."
She taught herself how to play four-mallet marimba and started practicing for many hours each day, Cynthia said.
Even as a junior, she is planning to apply to schools to study classical percussion, such as Julliard, Boston University, Manhattan School of Music and the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University.
"It's really the only thing everyone in the whole wide planet understands," Cynthia said of music. "It's really important to be able to connect with other cultures with things a little bit deeper than language."
Music is also humbling because those who study it realize they will never be the absolute best and never stop learning and growing, she said.
"I just like it a lot," Cynthia said. "I can't really see myself doing anything else."
Westminster High band and orchestra director Jennifer Jones said Cynthia has benefitted the program as much as it's benefitted her.
"So many kids come through these doors. They have talent, but they need to have drive," she said. "She has both."
Playing with the orchestra will serve as an invaluable self-assessment for Cynthia, and will help to prepare her for college, Jones said.
It's exciting that Westminster's music program continues to produce such high-caliber musicians, she said, and it helps when students, such as Cynthia, have incredible motivation, focus and drive.
"My expectations for her are just to enjoy and learn," Jones said. "I really see her as being in a professional orchestra some day."